Book review: Agile Project Management: A Mandate for the 21st Century

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Agile Project Management book cover“[T]he time has come when we need to admit we (the program/project manager, business customer, product architect/designer, other stakeholders) do not know the solutions to the problems… and indeed, that “we” – our methods, our habits, our leadership styles, our assumptions – are part of the problem,” writes Karen R. J. White in her book, Agile Project Management: A Mandate for the 21st Century.

This book isn’t designed to be an in-depth primer into agile. Instead, White aims to “connect the dots” between agile practices, project management and the business imperatives that mean we all need to be thinking about how to manage projects in an uncertain world.

I thought I’d end up reading a book in which agile could do no wrong, but White is measured in her approach and clearly sets out where projects will benefit from an agile approach and where they won’t. “Agile techniques supplement the traditional techniques the organisation already uses,” she writes.

The big concern I have with agile project management is making it work in an environment where the team does not all sit together. After all, agile teams work closely together and have daily stand up meetings. She writes:

Collocation of all project team members, including the project manager, contributes to this sense of unity and further fosters sharing and collaboration, but the reality is that many teams no longer share a continent, much less office space.

White touches on managing distributed teams in an agile environment by briefly saying it is possible with the use of technology to create virtual rooms for discussion and collaboration. “To date there are few examples of companies successfully employing agile project management with a distributed-team model,” she concludes.

The difficulties of managing remote workers aside, this is a handy book for convincing people to give agile a go. There is a good section overcoming cultural change issues and management resistance.

I would have liked to see some more on bringing the rest of the organisation along with you when you decide to make the leap. There is a page on how traditional budget planning doesn’t suit agile, but not a lot on how to make agile either work with corporate bureaucracy or get them changed.

There are are also some useful templates dotted about, like the change management action plan. It’s short, too, at just over 100 pages, but there is still space for an interesting chapter on measuring in an agile project environment. White makes the point that tools like earned value are not as useful for this type of project as accurate costs and a full schedule are not available at the outset of the project.

The final chapter looks at the evolving role agile methods have to play in managing the projects of the future. With more complex organisations and partnerships with suppliers, greater levels of uncertainty and global teams, agile could help companies face future challenges. If only they can get it to work effectively.

This is my first book review done completely on an iPad. The review was written on an iPad, and the book was read on an iPad too.